Court Ruling: Donor Listing Must Be Provided to California Attorney General

A May 2015 ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit could signal a trend toward state attorneys general requiring the names and addresses of organizations’ significant donors.

Naturally, this is closely held information that most organizations are reluctant to share. While it’s required on the Schedule B that organizations file with the IRS, Form 990 filers (excluding Form 990-PF filers) aren’t required to disclose this information to the public. Both California and New York have required organizations to provide their donor list to their attorneys general for some time, and neither discloses the information to the public. Still, the ruling broadens the sphere of those who have access to this information, which could have an impact on some organizations.

Background

The California attorney general requires charities soliciting donations in California to provide donor names and addresses as part of their annual Form RRF-1 filing. Failure to include donor listings with the Form RRF-1 an organization files with the California attorney general may result in an incomplete filing and penalties.

The Center for Competitive Politics—a Virginia-based not-for-profit registered with the California attorney general—challenged this requirement, arguing that the disclosure violates its and its supporters’ First Amendment rights to freedom of association and that certain nondisclosure rules under federal law preempt the state requirement. However, the court sided with the attorney general, agreeing there was a compelling law enforcement interest in the disclosure of names of significant donors.

Impact

It’s possible this case could drive a trend in which increasing numbers of state attorneys general demand this sensitive donor information from charitable organizations.

Given the penalties that can result from incomplete filing, organizations filing annual solicitation reports with states should carefully review form instructions to see whether donor information is required. If you solicit donations in a state that doesn’t currently require it, watch for updates to the instructions in future years in case that changes.

Contact Us

To learn more about what requirements accompany your not-for-profit’s operations within a particular state, or for more information about the ruling, contact your Moss Adams not-for-profit professional.